Spending by the U.S. criminal justice system hit a record $167 billion in 2001–$20 billion more than the 1999 total, says the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. Adjusted for inflation, the increase was about 150 percent over two decades.
Much of the increase was do to corrections costs. The total of state and federal prison inmates rose to 1.3 million in 2001 from only 488,000 in 1985. The number of inmates in local and county jails tripled to 631,000. By contrast, the number of arrests rose was 13.7 million in 2001 compared with 12 million in 1982, and the number of court cases grew only to 92.8 million in 2001 from 86 million in 1984.
Criminologist Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University told the New York Times that “states are faced with huge deficits and they are looking to prisons as a prime candidate to save money.” Spending on jails and prisons rose to $57 billion in 2001, from $9.6 billion in 1982, the Justice Department report said.
Spending on police and courts grew more slowly, with money for the police hitting $72 billion in 2001 and spending on the courts $38 billion, the report said. In total, the criminal justice system accounted for 7 percent of all state and local government spending in 2001, roughly equal to the amount spent on health and hospitals. The criminal justice system employed 2.3 million people in 2001, 747,000 as jail or prison guards.
Prof. Michael Jacobson of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City said the report was “another indicator, especially on the corrections side, that unless we do something more significant to change our punishment policies, these numbers are going to continue to be out of control.” Many states have made in the past two years to cut prison costs have been “minor reformist efforts, just nibbling around the edges,” he said.